You Can Get There from Here
Barbara Klock '86
I entered Swarthmore College long after the concept of student diversity became ingrained in the campus lingo but shortly before the concept of multiculturalism took hold. As a fair-haired, fair-skinned female, I surely did not appear to diversify the campus, but I did. During orientation week, I enthusiastically tapped on a Willets door and greeted my new hallmate with my Philadelphia accent. He responded, "You talk funny."
Before coming to Swarthmore, I had never known teenagers whose parents had Ph.D.s. I had never used the words "middle class" or "working class" in casual conversation-I didn't know that people compartmentalized the world that way. I remember saying to someone, while strolling back to Willets during my freshman year, "The working class can't stop to analyze their plight because they're too busy living it."
My life had always been about service. As a high school student in Philadelphia, I had organized numerous community-service initiatives with Cambodian refugees, homeless children, and others. During freshman year, a professor said to me, "I'm not used to someone from your background being so involved in social service." I didn't know that certain backgrounds made you feel more or less committed to helping someone live a little better.
My life at Swarthmore continued to be about service and children; therefore, the Education Program was the perfect haven for me. Bob Gross '62, Eva Travers, Ann Renninger, and Lisa Smulyan '76 patiently taught me to be a better writer, a thorough thinker-and a focused activist. When I met with Eva Travers to discuss my vision for my Lang Community Service Project, I wanted to teach kids about racism, women's issues, the rights of the disabled, and every other social injustice. In her nurturing way, she helped me mold my vision into a focused, manageable, and effective form. She taught me to choose one thing and do it well. I call on that experience frequently when planning things today.
During my time at Swarthmore, I probably spent one too many Saturdays scraping paint off abandoned houses in Chester or ducking under the lilacs with faculty kids I was baby-sitting when I should have been completing my reading in McCabe Library. As a consequence, what I remember most about Swarthmore today is the people. When I go back there and Bob Gross greets me with a hug, memories of Introduction to Education in the Cloisters flash in front of me-flashes of laughter and a listening ear and a circle of students working together, cultivated by Bob's open and warm manner. I love it when my former professors come up to me and tell me about their grown children whom I pushed through Parrish Hall in strollers. Although I may not have had classes with these professors, I was part of their experience of juggling the raising of young children with the building of a career. As was the case before I came to Swarthmore, I still consider myself much more of a doer than a thinker, but the people who influenced me at Swarthmore prepared me to question why things are the way they are and educated me to be confident that I can effect change.
While at Swarthmore, I was lucky to bridge the worlds of academia and my working-class upbringing. Today, as a pediatrician, I see the benefits of that bridging. Many of the families who come to me are solid working-class Philadelphians. They respect my education and also know I'll deliver news straight from the hip.
Back in 1985, at a College graduation party for a friend, one of his relatives commented: "Interesting. How does someone from Juniata Park [my neighborhood in Philadelphia] get to a place like Swarthmore College?" "Easy," I said. "Route I-95."
Barbara Klock is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.